Home Wisconsin Leadership Summit “Leadership is not a title.” Women executives talk power, responsibility at Women’s...

“Leadership is not a title.” Women executives talk power, responsibility at Women’s Leadership Summit


Women in executive roles have an important voice and a responsibility to use it, according to a panel of women executives at the second annual Women’s Leadership Summit presented by Summit Credit Union.

Moderated by Stephanie Díaz de León, the diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for Leadership and Engagement at the University of Wisconsin, the panel included UW Health Vice President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Exact Sciences Chief Laboratory Officer Ana Hooker, One City Schools Director of Family and Community Initiatives Marilyn Ruffin and Goodman Community Center CEO Letesha Nelson.

Hooker said earning a leadership position gives women a voice, but”along with that voice comes responsibility … Don’t speak apologetic, don’t speak making reasons why you are at a disadvantage. We’re not at a disadvantage. We’re here. We are at an advantage. Now let’s use it. Let’s not make excuses. Let’s not apologize for why we haven’t been here. Let’s not find reasons why we haven’t been here or justify. That’s all done. We need to move forward. And the only way to move forward is to stay. We’re here, what’s next? And how do we help each other and bring each other up?”

Bidar-Sielaff said women bring a unique perspective to the corporate world.

“We’re risk takers,” she said. “Men tend to think about themselves as, they’re risk takers. Being where we are has meant we have had to take a lot of risk in our lives. And in order for me for an organization to change, to adapt, to grow, risk needs to be the willingness to take a risk.”

Nelson concurred.

“I think we have an an innate ability to rise in a way that a man does not,” she said. “And when we get into this kind of power around us, like this power here, right, this is that woman power around us, there’s so many things that we can do.”

She added that the corporate position isn’t necessarily the most important thing.

“Leadership is not a title. It’s not,” she said. “It’s all of the things that you gather, and that you give back. That’s the leader. And I think yes, we need to have a title for other obvious reasons, right? But our experiences are what make us be able to hold that title true, is what makes people see us as that leader.”

Hooker agreed, but did note the title is important in terms of navigating corporate spaces.

“That title gives you that currency that allows you to be able to pay and be there and be in the room where it happens,” she said.

Ruffin added that language matters.

“They use the term underrepresented,” she said. “No, we were historically excluded.”

The Women’s Leadership Summit continues today with a session titled Food Justice: from sovereignty to security in Wisconsin. Moderated by Kansas City Star (and former Madison365) reporter Kynala Phillips, it will include Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, Arvina Martin, Hedi Rudd and Alexzandra Shade. Click here to join!